Ebola outbreak: what to do to prevent it?


The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa appears to be increasing and raises concerns that it may spread to other continents. Ebola virus disease is a severe, often fatal illness, with a case fatality rate of up to 90%. The infection is transmitted by direct contact with the blood, body fluids and tissues of infected animals or people. Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. During an outbreak, those at higher risk of infection are health workers, family members and others in close contact with sick people and deceased patients.

According to the World Health Organisation, currently there is no licensed vaccine for Ebola virus disease. Raising awareness of the risk factors and measures people can take to protect themselves are the only ways to reduce illness and deaths.

While initial cases of Ebola virus disease are contracted by handling infected animals or carcasses, secondary cases occur by direct contact with the bodily fluids of an ill person, either through unsafe case management or unsafe burial practices. During this outbreak, most of the disease has spread through human-to-human transmission. Several steps can be taken to help in preventing infection and limiting or stopping transmission.

(1) Understand the nature of the disease, how it is transmitted, and how to prevent it from spreading further.

(2) Listen to and follow directives issued by your country’s respective Ministry of Health.

(3) If you suspect someone close to you or in your community of having Ebola virus disease, encourage and support them in seeking appropriate medical treatment in a care facility.

(4) If you choose to care for an ill person in your home, notify public health officials of your intentions so they can train you and provide appropriate gloves and personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as instructions as a reminder on how to properly care for the patient, protect yourself and your family, and properly dispose of the PPE after use.

(5) When visiting patients in the hospital or caring for someone at home, hand washing with soap and water is recommended after touching a patient, being in contact with their bodily fluids, or touching his/her surroundings.

(6) People who have died from Ebola should only be handled using appropriate protective equipment and should be buried immediately.

With respect to traveling, the risk of a tourist or businessman/woman becoming infected with Ebola virus during a visit to the affected areas and developing disease after returning is extremely low, even if the visit included travel to the local areas from which primary cases have been reported. Transmission requires direct contact with blood, secretions, organs or body fluids of infected living or dead persons or animal, all unlikely exposures for the average traveler. Tourists are in any event advised to avoid all such contacts....

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